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DNA Testing Clears Man who Served 28 Years

DNA Testing Clears Man who Served 28 Years

Donald Eugene Gates stands outside a bus terminal while en route to Ohio Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009 in Phoenix. Gates was released from a federal prison in Tucson, Ariz. earlier today after serving 28 years for a rape and murder that DNA evidence revealed he

The AP via YellowBrix

December 16, 2009

WASHINGTON – A man who spent 28 years behind bars for a rape and murder he said he didn’t commit walked out of a federal prison in Arizona on Tuesday with $75 and a bus ticket to Ohio after DNA testing showed he was innocent.

The conviction of Donald Eugene Gates, 58, was based largely on the testimony of an FBI forensic analyst whose work later came under fire and a hair analysis technique that has been discredited.

“I feel beautiful,” Donald Eugene Gates, 58, told The Associated Press by telephone after leaving the U.S. penitentiary in Tucson, Ariz.

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Just hours before, the same judge who had presided over Gates’s trial years ago in D.C. Superior Court ordered his release.

Prosecutors had agreed Gates should be released. However, at their request, Senior Judge Fred B. Ugast delayed Gates’ formal exoneration until next week to give the government a chance to conduct one more round of DNA testing.

Ben Friedman, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, said Gates would be the first D.C. defendant who spent significant time in prison to be exonerated based on DNA evidence.

Gates was convicted of the 1981 rape and murder of Catherine Schilling, a 21-year-old Georgetown University student, in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

But the conviction was based largely on the testimony of FBI hair analyst Michael P. Malone whose work came under fire in 1997. At that time, the FBI’s inspector general found that Malone gave false testimony in proceedings that led to the impeachment and ouster of U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings in 1989.

Ugast was incredulous that prosecutors had failed to inform him after Malone’s work was called into question. He ordered the U.S. attorney’s office to review all its cases in which Malone testified _ something he said should have been done earlier.

Sandra K. Levick, one of Gates’ attorneys from the D.C. Public Defender Service, said she came across the inspector general’s report while doing her own research for the case. She then obtained more information through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed the FBI had issued warnings about the work of Malone and 12 other analysts who were criticized by the inspector general. As part of a review requested by the FBI, prosecutors confirmed they had relied on Malone’s work to obtain Gates’ conviction.

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